FEATURE: Viva Las Vegas! The Highs and Lows of a Las Vegas Residency



Viva Las Vegas!



The Highs and Lows of a Las Vegas Residency


I was going to end the day by writing about…


IN THIS PHOTO: A view of Las Vegas/PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

a growing number of drug-related deaths in the music industry. Maybe it is not the most Christmas-appropriate subject to raise but it is an issue that is relevant every day of the year. I shall leave that subject for the next day or two (or longer) but, right now, a look at artists who are entering a rather hallowed, albeit glitzy, manor. From Sir Elton John, Britney Spears and Prince have enjoyed long stays at various Las Vegas locations. Whether Caesars Palace or Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino – I often wonder what the motivation behind a Vegas residency is. It is an odd thing in music and one that draws comparisons to musicians who become talent-show judges. Many feel they are not passing on their knowledge and wisdom – rather, they have passed the peak of their career and are trying to remain viable and popular. I would never be so cynical but I feel it is interesting why some artists abandon the rather fraught and changeable daily existence and immerse themselves in the glamour and tinsel of Las Vegas. From Celine Dion to Rod Stewart; some of music’s biggest names have signed deals to take their music to tourists and Nevada residents alike. I mention this point because Lady Gaga has put her signature on a contract that will see her bring her unique brand of show(wo)manship and Pop magic to the people.


PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Granitz/Wireimage

Before I raise my doubts; I want to bring in a few sources who have looked at the lucrative side of the deal. Variety explained how the deal breaks down:

The race to lock down Las Vegas’ highest-paying residency is heating up with Lady Gagaannouncing a two-year engagement at the MGM Park Theater. According to two well-placed sources, Gaga is guaranteed just over a million dollars per show, and is committed to 74 appearances. Should all go well with ticket sales, she could extend that run, inching closer to the $100 million mark, a new — and record — threshold for the city and for even the biggest of current pop artists. Gaga stands to earn even more on merchandise sales — typically a 50/50 split with the venue — and VIP offerings”.

The Guardian argued this opportunity indicates the way Las Vegas is perceived and how Lady Gaga is part of the new breed of artists coming through the city:

Lady Gaga, whose live shows are notoriously outlandish affairs, often featuring over 20 outfit changes, has promised that her shows will be “unlike anything Vegas has ever seen before”. Yet while she may be the face of the new generation of Las Vegas performers, Lady Gaga said it was the appeal of performing in the “land of Elvis, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack, Elton John, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli” that had enticed her. “It’s been my lifelong dream to be a Las Vegas girl, I’m so overjoyed.”


 PHOTO CREDIT: Pinterest

The singer has even dangled the possibility she will use the show to debut new material. While her most recent album, Joanne, has not matched the commercial heights of previous releases, her popularity is steadfast and she has been nominated for two 2018 Grammy awards, for best pop vocal album and best pop solo performance”.

It is good to hear there may be more material but I wonder whether the opportunity Gaga has taken follows my fears regarding Britney Spears: it is a way of dodging the anxieties and demands of the music industry. There is no doubt a Vegas residency provides plenty of dollars but is it more a case of performing somewhere stable and non-exhaustive? Lady Gaga’s regular work schedule would see her fly between nations and embark on endless dates – seeing hundreds of hotel rooms and barely catching her breath. There are advantages to the sort of residency that Britney Spears is about to end. The singer has enjoyed a four-year stay in Las Vegas and thrilled fans with her Britney: Piece of Me show. The thirty-six-year-old has enjoyed success in the music industry since she was a teenager and huge critical and commercial success. Sure, she has had some turbulent times but it seems her time in Las Vegas has done her some good. I am curious whether the decision was prompted by a slight downturn in career fortunes. Britney Jean, released in 2013, was the last album she released before heading to Vegas and it was not received with huge applause of appreciation.

Britney Spears playing at Planet Hollywood Las Vegas. (Denise Truscello).jpg

IN THIS PHOTO: Britney Spears (playing Planet Hollywood Las Vegas)/PHOTO CREDIT: Denise Truscello

Glory, released last year, fared a lot better and showed a resurgent and refreshed spirit. Maybe, then, a Vegas residency is a way of stepping aside from the brutal machine of music and honing one’s skills. If the likes of Rod Stewart and Celine Dion entered Vegas past the glory-days of their careers: can the likes of Spears and Gaga learn from their times and create the sort of early-career material that put them on the map?! Joanne, unveiled last year, gained some great reviews but not the same affection as, say, her debut album (The Fame/The Fame Monster) or 2011’s Born This Way. Perhaps the constant touring and media glare has caused the U.S. singer-songwriter a lot of aggravation and exposure – unable to have a private label and relax from the constant glare and gossip. I have seen how musicians like Sir Elton John – someone who seems born to take to the Vegas stage! – gain a new lease and energy from regular performance in a comfortable environment. I guess Las Vegas, to some, represents a rather tacky and nauseating side of America. We associate it with gambling, endless neon strips and meaningless weddings. In reality, mind, there is a rich showbiz history that has seen the great of music (like Frank Sinatra) perform there.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Maybe Las Vegas is not as productive and intriguing as L.A. or New York but the sheer number of tourists who flock there every year is making it a popular ideal for our biggest musicians. I realise there are more positives inherent (than negatives) when it comes to signing that multi-million-dollar contract but I am curious about the suggested implication those who, traditionally, have played Las Vegas have not been at the top of their game. Maybe Elvis’ time there was legendary but one gets the visions of musicians past their prime entraining crowds who want a comfy chair and a chance to be in bed by 9 P.M. Maybe that is harsh but is it a way for certain artists to keep the dollars rolling in without having a sustained and concerned critical presence on their shoulders? They may have recorded great albums in the past but it seems this is their latter-days vocation and somewhere they can still play music but not have to worry about album sales, reviews and the media’s opinion. Perhaps that is not a bad thing but the bright lights of Las Vegas seem light-years away from the cooler, cutting-edge stages they would have walked years ago. Others might say artists are chasing the green. These contracts make the eyes water when it comes to pay. I know the artists are doing a lot of dates but each performance can net the musician somewhere in the region of a cool $1,000,000!


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Lady Gaga is not exactly going to have to drink from the toilet or wash her underwear in the kitchen sink! Again; maybe it is the cynic coming out in me. We associate Vegas with gambling and gaudy wealth so is it a rather appropriate reflection an artist should receive a big pay-day but, in the process, play loose with the risks. For someone like Lady Gaga and Britney Spears – the latter used to the demands and lifestyle of a Las Vegas residency – can they step back into the music industry and re-adapt to the (comparative) stress and demands of their former existence?! It is hard to come down from the environment of a Las Vegas hotel/casino and going on tour – playing in different nations and a variety of venues. The niggling suspicion is a lot of artists either do not intend on returning to music or will wind their careers down. Will Britney Spears continue to make Pop music in a few years’ time – when she will be forty?! Unless she reinvents herself like Madonna did for Ray of Light (2000); one suspects the kind of music she is synonymous will appear unseemly being sung by someone approaching their fifth decade of life. I hope Spears does continue to release music but she has been away from the focus of many of her fans and followers. I wonder whether she will ever record another album or, having spent four years performing big and tiring shows, she will take the volume down and record music with great gentility and subtleness.



I think there are a lot of good points but only on the proviso the artist, once they have ended their residency, can assimilate back into the musical jungle. Lady Gaga is ending her Joanne World Tour in February and will take a little time to reflect and get some rest. Then, having entertained thousands of people in a whistle-stop tour of the globe; she will prepare her show for Las Vegas and hope to remain there for a while. The reason I say that is because of a report I read in The Guardian back in September:

On Monday it was announced that Lady Gaga has cancelled her European tour, due to begin next week, because of “severe physical pain that has impacted her ability to perform”. She has fibromyalgia, and has made a Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, to raise awareness about this long-term condition. A statement says: “She plans to spend the next seven weeks proactively working with her doctors to heal from this and past traumas that still affect her daily life and result in severe physical pain in her body. She wants to give her fans the best version of the show she built for them when the tour resumes.”


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

One can imagine there was a sense of relief when Britney Spears was afforded the chance to head to Las Vegas four years ago. Having gone through various relationship splits and an up-and-down spotlight from the critics – some of her albums getting praise and respect; others a little colder regarding her music – it must have been quite a relief stepping into a routine and regular spot in Las Vegas. Her show is coming to its end but she has enjoyed a four-year period of financial stability, regular personal enrichment and a chance to breathe. Most musicians do not have a lot of time to see family and take time off; they are ferried around – that puts a strain on their physical health and mental wellbeing. Spears, having suffered the stresses of music in the past, has been busy during the last four years but not as chaotic and turbulent as it would have been in the ‘regular’ side of the industry. A central stage and regular, adoring crowds would have provided her the impetus to keep performing and, in doing so, a degree of spiritual enrichment that was desperately needed. Anyone who has seen Lady Gaga’s recent documentary, Gaga: Five Feet Two would have been moved by her bare-naked revelations and plight. She opens up about stress and depression; how fibromyalgia has impacted her music/life – throwing a light on the realities of the business and how hard it can be.



Few of us are aware of what happens behind closed doors and what a high-profile musician is like away from the microphone and camera. Stars like Britney Spears and J.Lo (another big name who has taken her music to the Vegas crowds) have been scrutinised and scandalised by the media – in a way; Las Vegas provides a shelter and safety for them. Lady Gaga will have a more stable diary and have time to rest and get away from music – not a lot more much more than she normally would. Her contract covers a set amount of dates (seventy-four) but that could be extended. One of the only issues is whether her fibromyalgia flares and exacerbates during that run. She is tied into a contract so missed dates might compromise the deal. I feel she will be a lot more settled and, not only will her mental-health and physical safety be better; she will be able to hone her craft and find fresh inspiration. One can argue previous Vegas incumbents like Elvis Presley, Sir Elton John and Rod Stewart have found new lease and creative juice following their time in Las Vegas. I look forward to seeing whether Britney Spears A) brings out an album next year and, B) it employs different genres/a more mature and left-field musicianship. It is possible Lady Gaga, following her time in Las Vegas, might change her dynamic and, perhaps, tone her music down.


IN THIS PHOTO: Sir Elton John (during one of his Las Vegas shows)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There is nothing wrong with the theatricality and pantomime of her music but, for anyone who listens closely, there is incredible songwriting and hypnotic hooks that compel music fans of all ages. I am excited to see her given some time away from the strain of the music industry and find creative focus and some sense of stability. There are demands and definite stresses involved with mounting a Las Vegas show and one cannot underestimate the effort and dedication needed to perform all of those dates. I worry the build-up, expectation and wok-load will cause some scars and cracks but it will be less strenuous and brutal than an average tour for Lady Gaga. The biggest hope, following her time there, is she can take what she has learned and continue to make music. I fear many Las Vegas leavers failed to record much new material – it certainly does not match the gold and brilliance we know and love them for. Lady Gaga is a figure the music industry needs: her brand of Pop is just what we need at a time when there is too much predictability, sterility and generic. It has been interesting looking at this subject and I am pleased Lady Gaga has the opportunity to bring her power and talent…



TO Las Vegas.